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Strength, Fitness, and Stereotypes about Femininity

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Hi Everyone,

Yesterday was International Women’s Day. As someone who runs a blog about Health and Fitness I am often confronted with body image, stereotypes, and confidence issues. I have also had the pleasure of receiving messages from women about how much stronger and more capable they feel after doing my workouts. 

Inevitably (but is it really inevitable?), I have also had the whole spectrum of comments written about my body. These are some actual comments I have seen: No curves. Not lean enough. Surprised you don’t have abs. Ewww, manly arms. I could never be with a woman stronger than me. Looks like a man. Boobs are to big. Boobs are to small and you would get more viewers it they were bigger and you showed them off more. You were much leaner in this video, maybe you should go back to doing whatever you did then. 

I share this with you for two reasons. My first reason is to show that no one person has a “perfect” body that will appeal to everyone. Second, every time I see comments like these I realize that many people don’t understand what I am doing with my blog. It’s not all about how you look. My muscles are a result of the physical strength and endurance I have developed through my workouts. They are a result of the mental strength and consistency that are required to develop and stick to a workout plan. My confidence does not come from the comments people leave me (be they positive or negative). It comes from knowing that I am mentally, and physically prepared for any challenges life will throw my way. It comes from knowing I am capable. 

People, women in particular, have been trained to think of the mind and body as separate entities. You can have one at the exclusion of the other. Either you must not care about how you look, or you’re prideful/boastful if you do care. Smart and Pretty are not mutually exclusive. Your body, your mind, and your spirit are all a part of you. They are all important. You should not fixate on one at the cost of the others. 

My lifelong friend, wrote this and I LOVE it: 

Because I was steered toward the arts and away from the sciences. 
Because the women in my classes are always the quietest. 
Because when I stand beside a male colleague he is addressed first. 
Because when someone sees me for the first time in a while, the first thing they comment on is how I look. [Because part of me appreciates that validation.]
Because when I get asked, “when are you getting married?,” and I reply with “I have no intention of doing so,” I’m so often met with incredulity or hostility and am asked to explain myself to someone who isn’t really listening.
Because if people thought I wanted to marry a woman, they probably wouldn’t ask me that question.
Because when I get asked, “when are you having children?,” and I say ” I do not want children,” I typically have to hear “you’ll change your mind.”
Because my mother still tells me I should find a man to take care of me. [Because part of me likes the idea of being taken care of, from time to time.]
Because if my body is subjected to unwanted attention, I probably invited it with what I was wearing, where I was, the way I moved, or anything I did or didn’t say or did or didn’t do.
Because my number of sexual partners somehow suggests something about my character.
Because I have been told to my face that I am too fat, too skinny, my boobs are too small, my thighs are too big, my legs would look okay if I didn’t have cankles, my nose is too big, my ass is too big, my hands are too big, I’d be prettier if I had clear skin, I shouldn’t wear makeup, I should wear heels, I should buy a gel bra, I should go to the gym, I’d be hot if I had green eyes, it’s a good thing I don’t have more freckles, I should eat less, and countless other things in a tone that suggested that I should care. [Because sometimes, in those moments and after, I did care.]

For these reasons, and so many more, I need feminism. What are your reasons? Celebrate International Women’s Day.

So, my question is how do you define being a woman? How has a stereotype affected your workouts or self image? You can respond in the comments section below or on my facebook page:

I love the messages on these shirts:
Strength is Feminine Tank Top from Nutrition Snob
I’m Not Strong for a Girl. I’m Just Strong Sweatshirt


PS My thesis paper in undergrad was on “The Lived Female Gender Experience.” I studied the prevalence of traditional gender roles and how they affected the gender image of each individual in my study. I am really interested in hearing your opinions. 

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